Domenech's last mission for France

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PARIS, June 3 – Raymond Domenech travels to South Africa overladen with the weight of criticism and scandal that have clouded his final assignment as manager of France.
Controversy stalks him like a big game hunter tracking his prey in one of the World Cup host country’s national parks.

A complex character, Domenech has shown he has skin as thick as that of any rhinoceros, which is just as well given the amount of flak directed at him.

Catalan-born Domenech came close to watching the 2010 World Cup from his sitting room, almost getting the sack after France’s dismal showing at Euro 2008.

His team’s first round exit was compounded by his infamous marriage proposal to partner Estelle live on French television seconds after Les Bleus’ final first round match.

His critics range from the fan on the terrace to the most powerful man in European football.

UEFA president and fellow Frenchman Michel Platini noted: "There is a ‘Raymond’ problem, a problem of personality, not one of manager.

"Where he was useless was after Euro 2008 with his announcement (of marriage) which effected the whole of France.

"People were hurt, sad, and then he turns up with this declaration. He knows that though, he made a mistake. Before being himself he was the manager of France. He owes everything to the family of French football."

As has become the custom Domenech was roundly booed by fans before his team’s final World Cup warm-up game on home soil against Costa Rica in Lens on May 26.

Results on the pitch have hardly helped Domenech’s cause.

France stumbled into South Africa through the back door with Thierry Henry’s helping hand via the play-offs at the expense of Ireland.

They were subsequently given a footballing lesson by European champions Spain in a March warm-up, prompting French Sports Minister Rama Yade to say: "We should have replaced the coach after the fiasco at Euro 2008 and judged him on those bad results.

"It is a shame to see this poor style of play. We’ve got some great individual players but the manager has been so far unable to shape a team."

Not for the first time cries for him to be sacked and boos for his underperforming players rang out at the Stade de France during the Spain masterclass.

Domenech’s authority was hardly bolstered by the French Football Federation’s (FFF) move to replace him with Bordeaux’s Laurent Blanc before the World Cup begins.

Even after his achievement in guiding France to the 2006 World Cup finals Domenech was hardly the nation’s favourite son – his prickly public persona grating with fans and media alike.

"Okay, I have to be honest, sometimes I’m provocative on purpose, but it’s not a committed strategy," he said in a remarkably frank interview this month with Psychologies magazine.

"Many of you (journalists) think I’m a born idiot," he added, laughing.

"I’m a rebel," he claimed.

"But not a rebel prepared to destroy everything, I’m a constructive rebel, I oppose things while putting forward alternatives. My rebellion is my engine."

While he appears to thrive on conflict he insists it stops at the door of the French camp.

"I think my players like me, apart from those that I’ve chucked out of the squad."

Despite his turbulent time at the helm of French football he insisted last November that resignation had never entered his head.

"I’ve got a missionary’s spirit. Obviously there are times when I’m tired, but then I go to sleep and wake up for a new day. Never would I have resigned – the stronger the pressure the more I’m motivated. Adversity is my friend. When things are calm I get bored, I even become worried!"

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